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Custody ruling in Michigan perplexes many



A return to the Dark Ages.

There must be something more to this case.

Those are the initial impressions among some Baltimore parents and day-care providers, as they try to make sense of a child-custody ruling made in Michigan this week.

A circuit judge there has given custody of a 3-year-old child to the father because the mother puts the daughter in day care while she goes to college. Macomb County Circuit Judge Raymond Cashen ruled that Jennifer Ireland's daughter would be better off living with the father's mother, whom he plans to leave the child with when he's at work.

"The ruling is a slap in the face of Mom," said Joan Hurt, director of Discovery Days Child Care in Rosedale. She had trouble believing the story and then had more trouble digesting it. "It's very strange."

Others wondered what else could have prompted this ruling.

"There's more to it than that. There has to be," said Lisa Pierzchalski, director of the Kiddie Academy child-care center in Towson. She wondered whether the day-care center the mother uses is licensed or is an in-home provider. These could have been factors in the ruling, she thought.

Apparently, one specific day-care center was not the issue. The child, the judge said, needs a feeling of safety and permanency she would not get with "strangers" in day care.

The judge also said the day-care issue was "pivotal" in making his decision.

"I'm sorry. That's absurd. That's hideous. This judge is from the ,, Dark Ages," said Ronald Hunsicker of Baltimore. He was picking up his 5-year-old boy from the Downtown Baltimore Children's Center on Park Avenue. "I think he's ignoring the welfare of the child."

Once a child is in day care for a few days, the teachers and other kids no longer are strangers, Mr. Hunsicker says. "What's Grandma going to do? Sit the girl in front of the TV?"

In the Michigan case, the mother and the father, Steve Smith, never married. Ms. Ireland and her daughter, Maranda, currently live with Ms. Ireland's mother. The custody issue came up in court when Ms. Ireland sued Mr. Smith for not paying $12 a week in child support. Mr. Smith then sued for custody.

Judge Cashen on Monday awarded custody to the father, who allegedly has not paid child support for two years.

"Oh, that is perfect. Again, child care is at no cost to him," said Gigi Wirtz, who was picking up her daughter Wednesday from the Children's Center.

Ms. Wirtz hopes this case doesn't set any precedent and stays clear ofMaryland. "It doesn't send a message [just] to working mothers. It sends a message to working parents and that is the legal system has not caught up with reality," she said.

The ruling drew the immediate ire of women's groups and immediate plans for an appeal from Ms. Ireland's lawyer. It also raised the modern debate over what provides a better environment for the child -- the home or a day-care center.

If the child in this case stays with a caring, loving grandmother, "I don't see it hurting anything," said director Nancy Kramer at the Children's Center. Still, children need the social experiences from being with a group of kids. "This is how the [child-care] system is supposed to operate," she said.

Dwayne Buie, rushing to pick up his 4-year-old boy, saw the Michigan ruling differently. Given the choice between leaving a child with a relative or at a day-care center, he doesn't see anything hideous or morally shattering about having a child stay with family.

He certainly has nothing against the Children's Center. But knowing how his boy's grandmother is with children, Mr. Buie said he would rather (if he could) have his 4-year-old son stay with her while he worked.

"I'd feel more comfortable," he said.

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